When you think of medieval fantasy weapons, it’s almost a given that the first image that will jump into your mind is a sword. Past that, perhaps an axe or a bow, or maybe a simple dagger.
But medieval weapons came in many more varieties than the popular mainstays. Indeed, some of the most common weapons to be found in the Middle Ages were of a type often overlooked in tabletop RPGs like D&D – polearms.
From the widely used halberd to the familiar spear, pole weapons of all sorts have a large (and largely overlooked) history. And they have a very different flavor than the usual weapon/shield combos’ fighters often default to.
So, for those wanting to change up their weapon choices and take a break from the usual longsword or great axe, let’s take a look at one of the polearm weapons in D&D 5E – the glaive.
Glaives in D&D 5E
In D&D 5E, glaives are classified as a martial melee weapon, with the following stats:
Cost: 20 GP
Weight: 6 lbs.
Damage: 1d10 Slashing
Properties: Heavy, Reach, Two-Handed
The Heavy property signifies a weapon so heavy or bulky that Small-sized creatures suffer disadvantage on attack rolls when using it, since its size makes it nearly impossible for them to wield properly.
Reach, on the other hand, signifies that the weapon adds 5 feet to your combat reach both for regular as well as opportunity attacks. And finally, the Two-Handed property, as the name suggests, means the weapon can only be wielded with two hands.
The Heavy property make the glaive eligible for the Heavy Weapon Master feat, while it is also one of the specific weapons listed as eligible for the Polearm Master feat.
It’s also, of course, open to other weapon- or melee-related feats which don’t have obvious disqualifiers, like Defensive Dualist. Let’s look at a few of these feats as well as some other ways to make the most of choosing the glaive as a weapon in D&D.
Optimizing the D&D Glaive
There are some Feats that are extremely beneficial for the glaive that we will cover off below.
The first and most obvious feat for a glaive-wielder would be Polearm Master, which comes with two benefits. The first is the ability to make a second attack as a bonus action when using a qualifying weapon (such as the glaive), gaining a 1d4 bludgeoning attack.
Granted, with such a small damage die it’s just adding insult to (literal) injury, but every little bit helps – especially with the right magical assistance or some other optimizing trick
The second, and more appealing, benefit of Polearm Master is that creatures entering your reach (and remember, reach with a glaive is +5, or typically 10 feet) provoke an attack of opportunity.
Place yourself properly in a melee, and that gives you a chance at making opportunity attacks at just about anyone – especially if you have other factors increasing your reach further.
Great Weapon Master
While this is probably more commonly associated with great swords or giant axes, the glaive is just as eligible, allowing an additional attack as a bonus action whenever you score a critical with a heavy melee weapon or reduce a creature’s HP to 0 with one.
It also gives you the option to “swing for the fences”, by choosing (prior to your roll) to take -5 on the attack roll in return for +10 damage if you hit.
This feat isn’t as exclusive as to the weapon used but has some features that make it attractive to someone wielding a weapon like a glaive.
Not only does it let your opportunity attacks drop a creature’s speed to 0 for the rest of the turn, but it allows you to make opportunity attacks even against creatures performing a Disengage.
Additionally, when a creature within 5 feet attacks someone other than you, you can make an additional attack against that creature as a reaction.
It’s worth noting that a player with a glaive taking both the Sentinel and Polearm Master feats would be able to make opportunity attacks at a creature both when they entered their range (again, 10’ if not more) and when they left it, even if they tried to Disengage.
And with Sentinel letting you drop their speed to 0 with your opportunity attacks in both cases, this feat-combo gives such a fighter serious control over the battlefield.
This feat allows a player to dip into the maneuvers under the fighter’s Battle Master archetype.
While it’s not the greatest investment, compared to the feats already mentioned, it would allow access to certain maneuvers that pair well with a glaive – though with only a single superiority die, it would make more sense to just take the Battle Master archetype to reap the full benefits.
Great Weapon Fighting: One of only two fighting styles that work with a glaive (the other is Defense), this style allows you to reroll weapon damage when the initial roll is 1 or 2 (though you must take the second roll, no matter the number). That’s a passable benefit that will statistically result in more overall damage, but whether that’s better than the +1 AC of just taking Defense is debatable.
Champion: The Improved Critical feature would pair well with the Great Weapon Master feat, but there’s not much else to recommend this archetype for a fighter that wants to use a glaive.
Battle Master: There are all manner of neat maneuvers in the Battle Master arsenal, and while all of them aren’t specifically advantageous to glaives and similar weapons, a few are of particular note if you want to maximize the weapon’s potential.
Most obviously, of course, is the lunging attack, which extends the attack range by an additional 5 feet (which would typically make a 15-foot attack range – impressive).
And then there’s the sweeping attack, which allows you to catch a second target with one attack action. A reach weapon lets you use this attack when the second target is still 5 feet from the first, but 10 feet from you – something a longsword or mace can’t do.
But there are also maneuvers that blend well with some of the feats described above. The feinting attack, for instance, can offer advantage on a strike in which a Great Weapon Master could take the -5 to hit, giving much better odds of dealing that +10 damage.
The pushing attack moves a target likely out of their range, while making them still accessible to you with a lunge attack (or whatever other way you can boost your range to 15 feet). Not to mention, Polearm Masters will then get an attack of opportunity if the target moves back into range.
Glaives Versus Other Polearms
While earlier editions of D&D had a much broader range of polearms (many of which were near-identical in game terms), 5E has a much more streamlined list. When it comes to polearms in 5E, the list of official D&D weapons is glaive, halbard, pike, quarterstaff, and spear.
Glaive vs Halbard
Where a glaive is essentially a short sword on a stick, a halbard is essentially an axe on a stick. In game terms, the two weapons are identical in every aspect, right down to weight and cost.
Glaive vs Pike
A pike is essentially a long thrusting spear, with a relatively small, usually leaf-shaped point at the tip. In game terms, it does similar damage to the glaive and halbard (though piercing instead of slashing) and has the same properties. It’s cheaper (5 GP) but much heavier (18 lbs.).
One of the key distinctions is that the pike isn’t eligible for the first benefit of the Polearm Master feat – the bonus attack with the back end – which puts it at a disadvantage against the glaive.
Glaive vs Quarterstaff
Staves need little explanation – a 6’ or so wooden pole. They’re cheap (2 SP) and light (4 lbs.), and, (unlike the glaive) are simple weapons – and the only three classes that don’t start with simple weapon proficiency (druid, wizard, and monk) still get proficiency with the quarterstaff, making them a universal option.
It does only 1d6 bludgeoning damage but has the versatile property allowing it to be used two-handed for 1d8. While it is eligible for the Polearm Master feat, it doesn’t have the Reach property to really maximize that, nor is it eligible for the Great Weapon Master feat like the glaive.
Glaive vs Spear
Another simple weapon, the common spear is a lighter and cheaper version of the pike (1 GP and 3 lbs.), a wooden shaft with a piercing head on the end. It has comparable damage to the quarterstaff (including the versatile property that can increase its damage to 1d8) and has the added benefit of being a throwable weapon.
Again, it lacks the reach property which would let it make the most of the Polearm Master feat and doesn’t qualify for the Great Weapon Master feat, though it’s versatility and potential for a ranged attack make the spear a reasonable choice for a fighter wanting to approach combat a different way.
History of the Glaive
The word glaive appears in the 14th century and seems to descend either from the Latin gladius or the Celtic cladivas – both of which are actually words for swords. And in fact, “glaive” continued to be used as a poetic term for sword into the 15th century, and in modern French the word still carries the meaning of short sword, particularly referring to the Roman gladius.
But in the 15th century, the word also came to describe a particular breed of polearm found widely in both European and Asian societies – one with a flat, single-edged blade mounted to the end of a 6 to 7-foot handle. These blades were mounted similarly to axe heads, in a socket-shaft construction and lacked the tangs used in swords or other bladed weapons.
In some cases, the blade might include a hook on the back side, an innovation designed to make the weapon more effective against mounted opponents. Glaives including such a hook are technically referred to as glaive-guisarmes.
Throughout Europe, a variety of different polearms match the description of a glaive, even though some may go under different names.
Others seem to match cosmetically but have minor differences in how they’re constructed that make them a separate weapon, like the fauchard. Still others have functional differences that make them distinct members of the broader family of polearms, such as the lucerne, voulge, and halbard.
In the Far East, the Chinese guan dao is essentially a glaive, and a number of similar Asian polearms match the description as well. While it is often compared to a glaive and definitely resembles one, the Japanese naginata has a tang construction, making it technically not a true glaive.
A glaive is a polearm consisting of a single-edged flat blade mounted on the end of a long, usually wooden shaft. In D&D 5E, the glaive has the Heavy, Reach, and Two-Handed properties and does 1d10 slashing damage.
Yes, glaives in 5E have the Two-Handed property, requiring two hands to wield.